Updated: Nov 12, 2022
As a young un you may be thinking that the menopause is a long way off and nothing to you or your partner needs to worry about until you are at least 50 years of age.
I'm so sorry to burst your bubble.
As I head firmly into middle age I've noticed a few thing start to change and not for the better and I'm still a good few years away from 50!
So it's a good converstion for us all to be aware of earlier rather than later.
So How Does Menopause Start?
To answer this we need a definition of what menopause is. This is what the NHS has to say on the matter:
Menopause is when your periods stop due to lower hormone levels. This usually happens between the ages of 45 and 55.
Hmmm....and here's the kicker...
You reach menopause when you have not had a period for 12 months.
So if your periods have become few and far between but you have had at least one in the last 12 months you are not classed as menopausal. At least the NHS has the decency to recognise there is a period of time before this known as 'peri-menopause' where you may experience all the symptoms of menopause and probably have erractic periods but they say that...
These symptoms can start years before your periods stop and carry on afterwards.
The indepth explanation of exactly how and why the menopause starts is quite complicated involving a lot of different hormones and interactions between these and other hormones or rather lack of interaction. The short answer to is peri-menopause starts with oocytes, or egg cells. These egg cells deplete or age which then has a knock on effect to the hormones that usually interact with the egg cells which leads to an increse in those hormones specifically follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), this knock on effect continues on with other hormones. Menopause it's self is attributed to a fall in estradiol and progesterone being produced by the ovaries, this is caused by the menstrual cycle becoming shorter and irregular.
In terms of symptoms one of the first signs of peri-menopause is commonly a change to your normal menstrual cycle.
When Does Menopause Start?
This is of course the natural question to progress onto but since it is a decline in hormornal levels that causes the symptoms and that decline is slow and not a sudden event it is a very grey area. Even if you are having a regular blood tests to monitor hormone levels you are unlikely to actually know when it starts as these hormones can fluctuate significantly during peri-meopause. And of course you will not be classed by the medical profession as menopausal until that magic year long marker which will definately not be when you first experience the symptoms. Hence why menopause is often determined after the year has already passed.
Lets talk peri-meopause.
Peri-menopause is the period of time before menopause. You will likely have many if not all menopause symptoms as listed in this blog post. It is very probable your periods have become irregular and infrequent.
I can say for certain that, baring any medical complications, if you are experiencing any menopause symptoms and are over 40 the chances of you being in that peri-meopause phase are extremely likely.
The bad news is that even if you have identified you are peri-menopausal the time frame is very uncertain, the NHS just says months or years. Wikipedia says 4-8 years or 6-10 years depending on the source used, RCOG says 4-5 years or longer, Age Uk say on average about 4 years.
So whats the good news?
There is some good news, for a start not all women experience symptoms during the peri-menopausl stage and if you are there are many things you can do to help yourself during this period in time. From diet and exercise changes to lifestyle changes to asking the doctor for HRT. Read this blog post on all the things to do and not do to help ease your symptoms.
And here's hoping I don't have ten more years of this...
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